Officials with the Gallatin Police Department and District Attorney General Ray Whitley have called the recent fatal shooting of a suspect by an officer justified.
“The TBI has presented their evidence to me and their findings to me of this investigation,” Whitley said at a press conference Thursday morning. “They have thoroughly discussed with me what has happened. We have had meetings about this case, and today I am here to tell you the results of those meetings.”
Whitley confirmed Sumner County Deputy Gary Pickard was at the home of Laronda Sweatt on Chaffin Court in regards to an eviction notice.
He added Sweatt approached Pickard outside, wielding two weapons: a medieval-style battle axe and a sword.
When Pickard told Sweatt to drop her weapons, she placed the sword in the ground and approached Pickard with the axe.
(Photo of Deputy Gary Pickard)
Pickard was stabbed and wounded by Sweatt before he called for backup.
Three officers arrived on the scene within four minutes, with the first being Officer James Spray, according to Whitley.
Sweatt came around Spray’s car after he got out, approached him, and brandished the axe.
Whitley said Sweatt was told multiple times to drop the weapon, but he added Sweatt only picked up speed, threatening Officer Spray with the axe.
According to Whitley, Officer Spray had about eight seconds to decide what to do. Spray shot Sweatt in the upper torso, firing his pistol two times. The first shot was fatal.
Whitley said the two officers who showed up following Officer Spray performed CPR on Sweatt in an attempt to save her life.
“They continued to perform CPR until EMS arrived and took her to the hospital,” Whitley said Thursday. “Laronda Sweatt was unfortunately pronounced dead at the hospital later on.”
Both dash camera and body camera videos were released depicting the fatal officer-involved shooting. Those videos were referenced in Whitley’s decision on whether or not the shooting was justified.
“After considering all of the evidence, especially the videos, the audio recordings, I have concluded after talking to the TBI, the investigating officers, thoroughly going over this case, that this shooting was totally justified. There will be no prosecution,” Whitley said. “There will be no further investigation necessary in the course of this particular matter.”
Due to the level of public interest and because the shooting was fatal and involved a police officer, the video was released. It can be viewed below, but please note it is graphic in nature and may be disturbing to some.
Whitley continued by saying the incident was sad due to the loss of life; however, he added Officer Spray did not have a choice.
“[Officer Spray] knew at the time when he got on the scene that [Sweatt] had already cut [Deputy Pickard],” Whitley said. “He saw her brandishing this battle axe. He saw her closing in on him as he was backing up. He didn’t just stand there and hold his ground, he was backing up because he was taught and trained to try to put distance between the assailant and himself.”
Whitley said the video evidence showed Officer Spray backed up into a patrol car at one point with nowhere else to go.
“[Sweatt] ignored his orders to stop. She ignored his orders to get on the ground,” Whitley said. “[Officer Spray] did what he was trained to do. I would like to bring this investigation, this matter, to an end. I think it’s necessary to do that, and that’s why we’re here today. I want to remove any cloud of suspicion, any cloud of doubt, from Officer Spray, from the Gallatin Police Department, in this matter.”
During the press conference, Whitley also spoke about Officer Spray’s emotions following the shooting.
“Officer Spray hates what happened, but he knows that he did his job,” Whitley said. “We all hate the fact that Laronda Sweatt has lost her life. She has loved ones. She has friends. She has supporters. This was something that shouldn’t have happened, but it did happen.”
Whitley said the TBI investigation was conducted very professionally, promptly, properly, and impartially.
“The TBI’s told me that they couldn’t imagine anything that could happen that would change their minds and change the facts because the video, the interviews, the audio all show exactly what happened, so I’m saying that the shooting was justified,” Whitley said. “It was tragic, but we may as well face up to the reality that this happens sometimes in the environment that we live in.”
“We’re pleased with the decision by General Whitley, but mind you, at the end of the day you still have a family that’s lost a loved one,” Gallatin Police Chief Donald W. Bandy said. “You’ve got a police officer that’s taken a life in his line of duty, so I ask that you’ll continue to raise them up in your prayers and thoughts.”
Spray has been with the Gallatin Police Department for three years, according to Chief Bandy.